(Continued from here.)
My parents divorced when I was 11, a very good thing. For many years thereafter I spent one seder with each, just my mother and I or my father and I. A few months ago I heard Dr. Susannah Heschel speak, and she noted that her family was a closed unit, although not at all antisocial. Her father had lost everyone in the Shoah, and this new family meant safety and love. He was reluctant to open the circle. I think my parents felt the same way; also, thanks to death and silly arguments, we now had very little family to invite. So I spent the first night, year after year, reading the Mah Mishtanah for my mother and then flipping briefly through the rest of the book until we came to the meal, greasy broiled chicken, sweet, crumbly brisket, and gefilte fish from a jar, and for dessert chocolate macaroons and wonderful Technicolor slices of fake fruit. Breakfast the next morning was matzah brei, the kind you didn't mix up like scrambled eggs but fried intact, like French toast. Douse liberally with salt; wash down with pulpy, fresh-squeezed orange juice. The second night my father speed-read the entire haggadah in Hebrew while I prayed the soup wouldn't boil over in the pot he kashered with a brick immersed in white-hot water. Those intimate seders, although a little depressing, were still more earnest in their attempts to follow ritual than the efforts of our family and friends, who had pretty much given up by then. I knew no one who cared about being Jewish. I'm sure they existed, but not in the circles I happened to inhabit.
In my last year of college I had a boyfriend, who invited my mother and I to his family's house for the first seder. My mother, although very ill, made the long subway trek to Brooklyn, where we both experienced a Passover miracle: a dozen happy relatives singing and joking, just like when I was three. His family was Conservative, their tunes different from what remembered in Hebrew School, but I picked them up quickly and even harmonized. My mother and I said little to each other that evening, but I knew she was hoping I'd marry into this idyllic tableau. And I knew I would not, but wouldn't dare say so. She passed away the following year just before Passover, which I once again spent with my boyfriend and his family, who I liked more than him but wanted to pretend otherwise so I could keep going to those big, noisy seders.